Midwest Movie Magic: The Love Story Behind Bethlehem

Some movies become part of you. Whenever you watch them, you’re flooded with memories of your own life. You think about when you first saw them, where you were working, how you were feeling, who was sitting next to you.

Two years ago today, I went to the premiere of a Christmas comedy called Bethlehem with a woman named Jenn Marie. We didn’t call it a date, but we both secretly wanted it to be our first. Little did I know that was the night I would fall in love.

Written by Hoosier natives Joshua Hull and Michael Malone, Bethlehem follows two troubled thirtysomethings (Malone and Melissa Revels) as they head home for the holidays and struggle to put on happy faces for their mom (Cindy Maples) and 26-year-old brother (Mike Dobrzelecki). As more relatives arrive, this family reunion dives into a downward spiral of dysfunction.

Jenn and I squirmed in our seats as these characters clashed — and as the first-date butterflies fluttered in our bellies.

Like Hull’s other films and Malone’s stand-up comedy material, Bethlehem often makes you cringe, but it’s also tinged with tender, heartfelt revelations. The characters crack open their hard hearts and show the fears and regrets they hide behind their snide remarks.

Behind the camera, Malone said he took tonal and stylistic cues from Roseanne — my all-time favorite sitcom. As I wrote in my NUVO Newsweekly review of the film: “Like that show, it’s rude and crude but also bathed in a warm light, as if filmed through a haze of nostalgia.”

That light represents the love-drunk glow through which I watched the film. It’s more than a movie now — it’s a memory.

When you listen to one of your favorite songs, you don’t think about the songwriter’s story — you reflect on your own. The song turns into a time capsule of your life, and you go back to it every year to put in more pieces of your personal history. This is how I feel about Bethlehem. It’s entwined in my time with Jenn. A DVD copy of the film — with my review quoted on the cover — sits on a shelf in the apartment where we’ve lived happily for two years now.

Bethlehem ignited the spark between us. Jenn championed my coverage of the film, and she even said, “This article is going to be a big break for you.” It was — it led me to her.

I’ll never forget standing outside the Strand Theatre in Shelbyville on that crisp November night and basking in the warmth of this woman. She beamed with pride I didn’t think I deserved. Her hand shivered as she held my article, and she spit out sharp yet sweet witticisms that mirrored the tone of the movie. Her giggles throughout the film washed over me like a blanket. I was relieved she liked it. I wanted so desperately to entertain her, to make her night feel like a date that could only happen in the movies. I didn’t want it to end.

We’re returning to that theater tonight to celebrate a love made possible by movie magic.



Sam Watermeier has been a film critic since practically before he was born, as he almost popped out of his mother’s womb in a movie theater during the drawn-out conclusion of The Godfather Part III. Sam started professionally in 2009 at NUVO Newsweekly, not only contributing movie reviews but also profiles of local filmmakers and previews of Indy film festivals. He also writes reviews and commentaries for the Indy-based website The Film Yap. In 2015, Sam was inducted into the Indiana Film Journalists Association.


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